14 Safety Tips for Your Volunteer Abroad Trip

Are you planning a volunteer trip but have concerns about your safety? Would you like to learn some easy tips to ensure your safety while traveling abroad?

This might be your first time traveling on your own, or you might be a little nervous to go to a new country. Safety is important, but so is relaxing and opening yourself up to an exciting new culture.

By following 14 simple steps, you can make sure your volunteer abroad experience is both safe and satisfying.

Do your research before you go.
Plenty of research can be done ahead of your trip online. Check out safety advisory websites, talk to your volunteer abroad agency, and go on forums for travelers to talk to people who have been to your destination to get a real feel for what to expect.

Understand the culture you are traveling to.
Sometimes certain cultures have dangers or expected behaviors you may not know to expect without learning about your destination ahead of time. Particularly for women, there are often expected dress codes and added dangers that travelers should be on guard for.

 Select safe project and destinations.
Selecting a carefully vetted volunteer project in a relatively safe destination will start you out on the right foot for a safe and incident free experience abroad. By going places that have been proven to be safe and traveler friendly with reputable organizations, you will greatly minimize any risk to your safety.

Select a reputable volunteer agency.
Volunteer organizations like IFRE have the professional experience, trusted local partners, in-country staff, and volunteer abroad know-how to back you up and make sure your experience abroad is safe, successful, and deeply rewarding. Read reviews and see what other volunteers are saying before selecting an organization to travel with.

Register with your embassy.
Travelers often don’t think of registering with the embassy of their home country when arriving somewhere new, but this can be an important step to protecting yourself against any unforeseen tragedies. If civil unrest or a natural disaster occurred, the embassy will be able to quickly locate you and evacuate you to safety.

Buy travel insurance.

Travel insurance can protect you against a lot of potential problems and cover you in the event of an emergency. Whether you get sick, injured, or lose a bag, insurance can give you the peace of mind and coverage you need when volunteering abroad.

Get vaccinated.
Before you travel, be sure to get up to date on any need vaccines. Wildlife volunteers or those spending a lot of time outdoors might want to consider the Rabies vaccine, but you should meet with a doctor to discuss your vaccination needs. The CDC has a handy database on their website organized by country that can point you in the right direction.

Carry important documents.

You’re obviously going to need several documents to volunteer abroad, like your passport, visa, travel insurance card, etc. For your safety, carry copies of these items, as well a laminated card with important numbers like the local police, your in-country coordinator, and the embassy of your home country.

Don’t drink the water.
This isn’t actually always true, but in some developing countries the sanitation is not up to the standards many places would consider drinkable. Do some research before drinking from the tap, as you may be exposing yourself to water borne illnesses. Ditch the disposable plastic bottles since they’re terrible for the planet and buy one good filtered bottle to take along.

Watch what you eat.
Nothing puts a damper on your volunteer abroad adventure like food poisoning. Make sure you are only eating fully cooked meals from hygienic sources, which might not be that tempting street vendor you come across. Going vegetarian while traveling abroad is a good way to avoid a lot of parasites and bacteria.

Don’t party like there’s no tomorrow.

You might love to go out at home, and your destination might be a sizzling spot for nightlife. Don’t drink until you are no longer aware of your surroundings, be super careful and go out in groups. Talk to locals to learn safe spots to go out, don’t dress provocatively, and let someone in your volunteer group know where you are at all times.

Get the lowdown on the local transport.
Chat with your host family or local project staff about the safety of public transportation in the area you are volunteering in. Some places, like Costa Rica, have cheap, reliable, safe and plentiful, if sometimes late, buses you can use to travel all over the country. Other countries, like Brazil, might have buses which are dangerous and prone to robbery, making a taxi a safer option.

Speak the local language.
Not only will speaking the local language make you feel safer while traveling, you’ll also feel more comfortable. Strangers will become new friends, even if you just learn a few words and phrases. Speaking the local language can also help you navigate any sticky situations you might encounter much more easily.

Be aware of your surroundings.
You’re going to be volunteering abroad in an exciting new country and having the time of your life. Don’t stop having fun, just look around and make yourself aware of your surroundings. Being alert and confident can actually ward off potential thieves or people with ill intentions, as they prefer victims who seem lost, uncertain, or unaware.

A little common sense and planning ahead go a long way. Follow these 14 simple steps, and you’ll be safely navigating your volunteer abroad experience in no time.

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